Philip Stevens writes...
Sporting events like the Commonwealth Games are very much a visual spectacular – and, for that reason, the audio side of the various activities that will take place in Glasgow in July have often not received the close scrutiny they deserve. But that doesn’t make the work of those involved in bringing the all-important sound of the games to TV and radio audiences any less necessary.
The 20th (XX) Commonwealth Games, starting on 23 July and running until 3 August, will encompass 26 sporting disciplines in 19 venues in and around the Glasgow area. In addition, 22 parasport medal events will take place – more than at any previous Commonwealth Games.
The audio and video presentations at each venue are the responsibility of Venue Technology Services (VTS), with one of the contracts overseen by VTS also involving audio production company Sports Technology. The broadcast side of the coverage will be handled by a joint company formed by London-based Sunset+Vine (of Sochi 2014 fame) and Australian production company Global Television.
“VTS is one of the six core areas that make up the technology and broadcast division, answering directly to the chief information officer,” explains Rob Hunt, general manager of Venue Technology Services. “We look after the planning, implementation and operation of venue-based technology, equipment and services for both competition and non-competition venues.
“VTS is also responsible for partner and supplier management of […] audio systems, audiovisual equipment, data cabling and other miscellaneous technology required at each venue. In addition, at games time, VTS manages the local venue service desks and radio distribution rooms [which are] staffed by a technology volunteer workforce.”
To meet this extensive brief, the team at VTS comprises a diverse range of expertise, such as event management, project management, telecommunications, network, broadcast and audiovisual skills. In addition, VTS takes technical advice from experts within other areas of the technology and broadcast department, partners and contractors.
Four years of planning
Hunt states that the overarching VTS strategy, scope of works and preliminary budgets were developed in 2010. At the end of 2011, a process began that included venue audits and the development of the tools to capture and validate these requirements for all competition and non-competition venues. The result of this work was used as the foundation for all VTS tender scopes.
Hunt (pictured, right, holding the Queen's Baton) goes on: “When it came down to the audio overlay tender, potential suppliers were asked to provide full end-to-end delivery and operational support of a variety of services including public address, audio presentation, sport-specific audio systems and media systems. They were also required to provide appropriate support at the planning and operational stages to ensure audio services are delivered to meet standards consistent with an international event such as the Commonwealth Games.”
VTS went to market with a ‘lot’-based approach, giving potential suppliers the option to bid for the audio overlay or video overlay contracts – or both.
In order to conduct a fair and transparent procurement process, and to avoid excluding any potential suppliers, VTS did not specify particular types of equipment. However, high-level standard technical specification guidelines and sport specific requirements were issued. These included speech and music reinforcement in a non-reverberant manner, with an even coverage of the intended audience area; frequency response characteristics of 120Hz to 4kHz +/-5dBu; a maximum sound pressure level (SPL) of 95dBu +/- 5dBu; and Speech Transmission Index (STI) intelligibility of greater than 0.65 per cent. It was also stated that all speakers directly covering media tribunes or other sensitive media areas must have individual volume/zoning controls.
“This specification allowed the contractor to propose what they considered the best technical and operational solution that meets the basic technical and operational guidelines,” Hunt explains.
The tender for audio and video overlay was awarded to Sports Technology in early 2013.
The overlay contract
Crawley, West Sussex-based Sports Technology is well placed to provide audio requirements, having recently returned from supplying similar facilities for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It also provided audio and non-broadcast services at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“The Olympics was a massive undertaking involving something like 1,275 amplifiers, 3,200 speakers, 230 production mixing consoles and hundreds of microphones,” comments Damian Rowe, director of Sports Technology. “The Commonwealth Games may be slightly smaller in scale, but the demands are enormous nonetheless. Our job is to provide the entire audio and video overlay – that is, all the non-broadcast facilities for stadia, other venues and facilities such as press conferences.”
Sports Technology is jointly owned by Rowe, Creative Technology and Delta Sound. As part of the Avesco group, which includes Creative Technology and Dimension Audio, Rowe and Sports Technology can readily call upon additional resources – and another Avesco company, Presteigne Broadcast Hire, is on hand to provide its RF expertise.
“There are more than 20 venues in all, and we carried out an assessment of each,” explains Sports Technology’s project director, Mike Chesterton. “In order to do that, we needed to be told the location of spectator seating, the number of people expected and other relevant factors. In a very few cases, the existing legacy systems can be used, but generally we plan on installing specialist systems to meet the specifications laid down by the games’ organising committee.
Sports Technology utilised the EASE (Enhanced Acoustic Simulator for Engineers) software suite to provide the calculations that determine the type and location of speakers and amplifiers. “This program provides aset of tools that enabled us to produce detailed, realistic 3D modelling for each of the venues,” explains Chesterton. “That means we can create an audio system that meets all the requirements for each location. It shows what levels and performance are achievable with what kind of speaker – the angle at which the speaker must be fitted and the general dispersion of each one. We can play with this model until we have arrived at the specification required by VTS for each location. In short, it provides for an evaluation before the work of installing begins. And, of course, it reduces the installation time.”
Chesterton points out that venue requirements often change, but that having the 3D model in place means an upgrade is easily carried out. Some venues will host different sports, so alterations to seating arrangements or the area of field of play have to be taken into account. The drawings also provide the STI for each venue.
Once the 3D model is complete, a line drawing showing cable runs and the location of mixing desks, speakers and amplifiers is produced. These detailed schematics are also produced for smaller events such as press conferences. Overlay drawings can be utilised to determine any changes that may be envisaged.
“We then provide the organising committee with a detailed summary of the equipment we envisage at each site,” Chesterton adds. “The committee may suggest changes, but for the most part they are happy to accept our guidance about the systems.”
Continued in part two!